University Museums at Iowa State University announces the Christian Petersen Art Museum’s fall exhibition UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage which features the contemporary sculpture of Iowa State alumni Mohamad Hafez. The exhibition opens on September 4, 2018 and will run until October 19, 2018 at the Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall, Ames, IA. Admission is free. University Museums will also be bringing Mohamad Hafez to campus for an engaging lecture on his art that is informed by his personal story, along with other programming that will shed light on the refugee experience in America.
UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage
University Museums has an exceptional opportunity to host the exhibition UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage. The uniquely beautiful and delicate creations are the work of Syrian-born artist and architect Mohamad Hafez of New Haven, CT. The stories depicted are gathered and curated by Ahmed Badr, an Iraqi-born university student, writer, activist, and refugee. Through their collaborative storytelling, they hope to humanize the many diverse people who have come to America as refugees. The stories of people forced to flee their homes, their culture, their families and how America became their new home, a place to begin new lives and escape the constant fear or war and death.
Hafez carefully reconstructs miniature versions of each story and houses the highly detailed recreations within a suitcase. Each is embedded with the voices and stories of real people-from Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Iraq and Sudan-who have escaped those same rooms and buildings to build a new life in America. The suitcase further amplifies the understanding of each participant’s refugee status. They had no choice but to leave their homes, often carrying little with them, but their memories survive intact. The memories of the lives they lived in the countries they loved, mingled with the acrid taste of violence that many witnessed and experienced. Badr brings these stories to life through interview and text, using his own experiences as a refugee to sensitively tease out difficult memories and hopes for the future.
“To make such work, to make it look believable and realistic, I have to immerse myself in what’s going on back home,” said Hafez. “Sometimes I collapse, looking at what I’ve created.” From For Syrian-Born Artist, “Remodeling the Destruction” of Civil War Is Dark, But Hopeful by WNPR, Patrick Skahill.
Mohamad Hafez came to the United States to study architecture at Iowa State University, but with only a single entry visa, he was unable to return to his beloved Syria. With the advent of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, his home was forever changed. Many of his artistic recreations exhibit a sense of nostalgia for what was, the homes and culture these refugees took pride in, but shown in the midst of their destruction. Each story is unique, yet each story tells of a great sense of loss coupled with the courage and force of will it took each refugee to leave their home.
“As an institution that welcomed Mohamad Hafez and allowed him to build a basis for his successful life in this country, it is our honor to present his very important and timely exhibition. Each work of art is a chance for viewers to better empathize and come to understand the struggles of these individuals, to eliminate the stigma, and to truly see the people who carry the stamp of refugee.”– Adrienne Gennett, associate curator, University Museums, Iowa State University
This exhibition is curated and organized by Mohamad Hafez with University Museums. The exhibition is supported, in part, by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support for the exhibition and artist lecture was also given by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Committee; Larry and Sue Koehrsen; Sarah Nusser and Michael King; Jonathan Sukup; Julie and Len Rodman; College of Design; Global Resource Systems; the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion; the World Affairs Series and Committee on Lectures, funded by Student Government; International Students and Scholars Office; International Studies Program; Department of World Languages and Cultures; and the Department of English.
All of the works of art in the exhibition were kindly loaned by the artist, Mohamad Hafez.
More information at https://www.unpackedrefugee.com/
About the Artist
Syrian artist and architect Mohamad Hafez was born in Damascus in 1984. His parents lived 22 years in Germany, spent 16 years in Saudi Arabia, and the family returned to Syria when Hafez was 15. The teenaged Hafez enjoyed four, formative years in his native city before departing for the U.S. to pursue an electrical engineering degree and a Bachelor of Architecture at Iowa State University.
A predecessor to today’s “Muslim travel ban” defined Hafez’s early career. The Bush-era National Security Entry-Exit Registration System held up Hafez’s visa for 18 months and made it so he wouldn’t return to Syria for eight years. Hafez’s first decade of artistic practice was private, a cathartic response to this circumstance.When the Syrian Civil War began, he coped with the pain from his homeland’s destruction by modeling its devastation as high-fidelity sculptures. Several years into the conflict, friends insisted he reveal this work to the world.
Hafez exhibited installations in New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. His artwork has recently been featured in four highly acclaimed exhibitions and profiled in National Public Radio, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. Hafez contributed to group shows in the U.S., the U.K., and Kuwait. Last year, Hafez toured the solo show UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage where he built multi-media sculptures inspired by stories of refugees from Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan into suitcases donated by U.S. immigrants; the source audio interviews accompanied each piece on headphones. In December 2017, UNICEF held an encore UNPACKED exhibition at its New York headquarters. Hafez serves as a 2018 Yale University Silliman College Fellow.
More at http://mohamadhafez.com/
Related Events and Programs
-Tuesday, September 4 from 4:30 to 6:00 pm, Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall
EXHIBITION RECEPTION UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage
Join us for a reception in the newly installed exhibition UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage currently on view in the Christian Petersen Art Museum. The exhibition tells the stories of different refugees through artist Mohamad Hafez’s miniaturized recreations of a moment in time or memory recollected and accompanied by an audio component with the story told in their own words. Each story is unique, yet each story tells of a great sense of loss coupled with the courage and force of will it took each refugee to leave their home. Brief remarks by the artist, who received a BArch in Architecture from ISU in 2009, and University Museums Associate Curator Adrienne Gennett will begin at 5:15 pm. Light refreshments.
-Wednesday, September 5 at 8:00 pm, Sun Room, Memorial Union
ARTIST LECTURE Refugee Stories: The Art of Mohamad Hafez
Mohamad Hafez came to the United States to study architecture at Iowa State University, and was unable to return to his beloved Syria. With the advent of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, his home was forever changed. His memories and love for his homeland led Hafez to begin creating very personal works of art in response to the crisis in Syria. Through art he hopes to give voice to these refugees, and humanize their plight as they attempt to forge new lives in a world so unlike their own. Hafez’s miniaturized recreations are recollections of the refugee placed within a suitcase.
-Sunday, September 9 at 2:00 pm, Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall
The Age of the Stateless (Le Temps Des Égarés) – Film Showing
Sira is a former refugee. She speaks six languages and works as a translator for OFPRA, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons, which is responsible for applying the dictates of the Geneva Convention. Unscrupulous and extremely lucid, Sira doesn’t hesitate to extort huge sums of money from displaced foreigners seeking asylum in France. While the story is fictional, the dramatic fate and cruelty imposed upon refugees rejected by OFPRA are approached with great accuracy. Screenwriter Gaëlle Bellan (Spiral, 2017) has thoroughly documented the refugee situation and clearly denounces the deficiencies of an outdated, dehumanized system. Directed by Virginie Sauveur (Frères, 2010), Le Temps des Egarés won Best TV Movie, Best Screenplay and Best Original Music Awards at the 2018 Luchon Television Festival and the Audience Award at FIPA, the International Audiovisual Festival in Biarritz.
Source: colcoa.org; Run Time: 90 minutes
-Friday, September 21 at 12:00 pm, Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall
Telling Your Story
Who are you? I bet you have a story to tell. Will you tell it? Of all the things that you can do to make the world a better place, few things are more valuable and beneficial than telling your story. Come to hear Mani Mina, associate professor in Industrial Design, share his story, be inspired to tell your own, and share it with the world.
-Friday, September 28 at 4:00 pm, Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall
War, the Refugee Crisis, and the Global Response
More than 65 million people are displaced from their homes as a result of wars, persecution, or severe economic difficulties. Figuring out how to respond to this many displaced people and the problems that forced them from their homes is a daunting task. Join Nell Gabiam, associate professor in World Languages and Cultures and Political Science, in the exhibition UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage to discuss the response to this global crisis.
-Sunday, October 7 at 2:00 pm, Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall
Developing Empathy: The Refugee Experience
Held in the exhibition UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage, participants will be facilitated in making contemporary connections to the refugee experience using the reflective model developed by the civics education organization, Facing History and Ourselves. Facing History and Ourselves provides teachers with content resources and pedagogical strategies to promote classroom conversations about challenging topics. Drawing on her collaborative work with the organization, Dr. Richardson Bruna, associate professor in the School of Education, will model the use of these resources and strategies in encouraging collective meaning-making related to the exhibition.
-Thursday, October 11 at 4:00 pm, Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall
Refugee Stories at Iowa State
Each work of art in the exhibition UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage is a chance for viewers to better empathize and come to understand the struggles of individuals, to eliminate the stigma, and to truly see the people who carry the stamp of refugee. ISU faculty, staff, and students will share their own personal narratives on the refugee experience, allowing their lived experiences to further understanding, empathy, and inclusion at Iowa State.
UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage installation by Mohamad Hafez. Image by Rodney Nelson and courtesy of the artist.
Admission and Hours
The Christian Petersen Art Museum is located on the first floor of Morrill Hall on central campus, 603 Morrill Rd. Admission is free, however there is a suggested donation of $3 per visitor. The Christian Petersen Art Museum’s regular hours are as follows: Monday through Friday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. The Christian Petersen Art Museum is closed weekends and during University breaks and holidays. Parking available at the Memorial Union Ramp (fees apply).
To schedule interviews with the artist and/or to photograph exhibitions or events, please contact Adrienne Gennett (515-294-3342 firstname.lastname@example.org).
For more information about University Museums, call 515.294.3342 or visit
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